A row boats on display at the Community Boating Center that can be rented for use on Bellingham Bay. // Photo by Rob Stanley
By. Rob Stanley
Due to its proximity to water, Bellingham sits in a prime location for aquatic fun. Now that summer is in full swing, increased awareness of water safety is important for local water-lovers.
Whether paddling a kayak in Bellingham Bay or swimming at Lake Whatcom, knowing the risks that come aquatic activities is key to staying safe in the water.
The Arne Hanna Aquatic Center is a great place to get familiar with water before going outdoors. The multi-use facility has lap swimming, recreation programs and swimming lessons.
“As adults, if you don’t know how to swim, we have classes for every age group, and that is absolutely critical,” Jordan Soderquist, a lifeguard and recreation instructor at the aquatic center, said. “The biggest thing is knowing your own strengths.”
For those who are ready to get on the water but don’t know how to start, the Community Boating Center in Fairhaven offers classes for kids and adults to learn basic boating skills.
Erica Reed, operations manager at the boating center, explained that one goal for the center is to prepare boaters for potentially unsafe situations by creating a safe environment where they can learn how to deal with them.
“You can’t teach anyone how to respond in every situation,” Reed said. “So we’re trying to teach our students foundational skills, a core conceptual knowledge of what they’re doing, and an ability to think critically and analyze the weather in front of them, their own selves, their tools, and make a decision.”
The currents and tidal changes of Bellingham Bay can pose a greater danger for water enthusiasts than the Arne Hanna Aquatic Center. Reed recommends that kayakers and captains of other small watercraft pay attention to the tides and currents when going out into the bay.
“You always want to know what the current is doing out there,” LFS Marine & Outdoor assistant manager Todd Mohorovich said. “Especially if you’re on a small paddleboard or even a kayak.”
Soderquist said in addition to the currents and tides in the bay, depth is also an important factor to take in while playing around water.
“Make sure that you know the depth of the water before diving or going headfirst, and make sure you know what’s on the bottom,” she said.
Soderquist said knowing when swimmers are in need of rest is key to staying safe in the water. At the beach or pool, Soderquist recommends that adults who can’t tread water fully clothed for more than 10 minutes wear a personal floatation device.
Washington state law requires a Coast Guard-approved life vest for each person on all vessels and kids 12 and under must be wearing one at all times.
“The last thing you want to be is kind of buoyant,” Mohorovich said.
In order to combat this, he recommends using a personal flotation device with the proper buoyancy rating. According to Mohorovich, ratings around 38 PSI will be safer for offshore activities, while 28 PSI will be sufficient for activities closer to shore.
Being prepared and aware are the best ways to stay safe while taking advantage of aquatic opportunities.